In this FAQ on divorce papers, we are going to answer some of the most common questions that we have received about initiating a divorce, especially the process of serving or responding to the initial divorce papers.  Note: each state has its own rules and procedures, so the answers below are according to the laws of California, where we practice.


How to get a copy of your divorce papers?

Certified copies of any divorce-related documents, from the initial petition to the final decree, are only available from the Superior Court of the county in which the divorce was originally filed.  Only parties to the divorce or their designated representatives are permitted to receive copies of those documents.  However, limited information (party names, filing dates, case numbers) may be available publicly in the court’s online docket database.


Can you be divorced without divorce papers?

A divorce cannot proceed without diligent attempts to involve both parties.  If the petitioning spouse absolutely cannot find the second spouse in spite of using every tool and method available to them, then after 30 days they may file a Motion For Default.  If granted, the divorce will be finalized according to the terms set by the petitioning spouse, provided they are in alignment with applicable law. 


Can you serve divorce papers in person?

You, as a party to the divorce, cannot serve the papers yourself.  But arranging to have someone over 18 who is not a party to the divorce serve the papers in person, what the courts call “personal service,”  is actually the most preferred and reliable method.  That way, there is no doubt that all parties are fully aware of the case, and it may therefore proceed even if the receiving party chooses not to actively participate in the process. 


What documents are required to file for divorce?

There are three main documents that constitute an official divorce filing:

  • A “Petition — Marriage/Domestic Partnership” (form FL-100), which provides the basic information about the relationship and what the petitioner is wanting the court to do with the marital estate.
  • A “Summons (Family Law)” (form FL-110), which formally tells your spouse that a divorce court case has been initiated, and requests their response within 30 days. 
  • If there are any minor children involved, a “Declaration under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA)” (form FL-105), which gives the children’s names, dates and places of birth, current addresses, and if they are currently the objects of any other custody cases.


My wife sent me divorce papers. What do I do?

Included with the papers should be a blank “Response — Marriage/Domestic Partnership” (form FL-120).  This form, and any other necessary documentation (e.g. a “Declaration under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA)” form FL-105), must be served back to the petitioner within 30 days to prevent the divorce from going into default.  Service of your response must be done by someone else, not yourself, using first-class mail, and then a “Proof of Service by Mail” (form FL-335) must be submitted to the court.


How long after divorce papers are signed is it final?

The minimum period of time to finalize a divorce is six months.  However, the current average is about fifteen months.  Ultimately, how long it takes hinges on the complexity and level of contest in the process.


How did you serve divorce papers to your spouse?

The preferred method to serve divorce papers is to have them hand-delivered by anyone over the age of 18 who is not a party to the divorce.  If after several attempts this “personal service” is unsuccessful, a judge may permit an alternative method of service, for instance, publishing the summons in a local newspaper or posting it on the courthouse itself.  If necessary, especially if the spouse is located in another state, it is also possible to serve the papers by mail.


Why do divorce papers have to be served by someone else?

There are two reasons.  First, to avoid any conflict of interest:  parties to a case are not neutral and thus cannot be trusted with procedural matters where neutrality is essential.  But second, serving divorce papers is by definition a confrontational action, and it is simply safer to have a third party stand in for the petitioning spouse to reduce the potential of a violent reaction by the respondent.


What happens if someone refuses to sign divorce papers?

Served spouses have 30 days to respond.  After that, the petitioner may file a Motion for Default.  The judge will then review the case according to applicable law, and, provided there are no legal reasons not to, grant the divorce more-or-less along the terms requested by the petitioner.


What do I do after I’ve been served divorce papers?

To prevent the divorce going into default, the blank “Response — Marriage/Domestic Partnership” (form FL-120), which should have been included with your service packet, needs to be completed along with any other necessary paperwork, and served back to the petitioner within 30 days.  Anyone over 18 who is not a party to the divorce may do this service, using first-class mail.  The process server must then file with the court presiding over the divorce a “Proof of Service by Mail” (form FL-335).


Do I need a lawyer for my divorce?

While it is possible to do a DIY divorce, it is not advised.  Improperly completed paperwork, missed deadlines, overlooked details in negotiations: all of these can result in a judgment that is not truly equitable.  


The best team for your best results

Our team of experienced family law attorneys at Silva & Associates are here to guide you through the entire process, whether you are the petitioning spouse or the respondent.  Reach out to us today, and we will work with you for your best possible outcome.